A critical shortage of personal support workers (PSWs) in Orillia and beyond is making a bad situation worse for many local families.
Kim Salmon’s 81-year-old mother, Marg, is in Soldiers' Memorial Hospital after suffering a stroke that paralyzed her right side and impacted her speech.
Salmon says her mother’s days are limited and her dying wish is simply to go home. Unfortunately, Salmon can’t find any help to care for her elderly mother. As a result, Marg is slated to move into Champlain Manor Retirement Residence on Monday.
“My mom won’t survive there,” Salmon worries. “As soon as she sees she is going there and not home she will just stop eating. It will be the end of her, and she will be so angry and disappointed.”
Salmon says she has called every local company that employ PSWs but has been told there is a wait time of up to a year for home care locally.
“There is nothing anywhere," she said. “It’s terrible and really impossible.”
Salmon begs anyone who might be able to help to contact her (705-323-8823).
“It’s so sad that these older people have to stay in a hospital bed until they get put in a nursing home,” she said. “My mother is pleading with me to get her out of that hospital and take her home.”
Sheona Kloostra, the owner of Orillia's Happy at Home, says 17 local families are currently on waitlists for home care services and up to 150 are waiting for help in the north Simcoe/Muskoka region.
“Before COVID, we would run with a staff between 45 and 50, with a combination of retired nurses, PSWs, and (development support workers),” she said. “When we went into COVID, more than 50 percent left within the first three months due to fear of the unknown.”
Kloostra says a lot of people have found a way to live on one income and found ways to make extra income by selling products, baking, making meals, and babysitting. Kloostra says of the 25 employees she still has, 17 of them have been impacted by the Omicron variant of COVID-19 since the middle of December.
“Some of them are showing the effects of long COVID and they can’t do the job,” she said. “I have three on long-term on a leave of absence. That is 120 hours a week that I can’t fill with the agency.”
Kloostra says if PSWs were paid more by the government they would have some incentive to return to work. Happy at Home has offered their staff snow tires, CAA memberships, and Costco memberships as incentives to stay on board over the winter months.
“We are running so thin that there is no wiggle room. If someone gets sick, then those visits are done for the day,” she said. “It’s not how it should be and it’s not how it was before COVID. We used to have all kinds of extra staff kicking around. Every staff now is working to their max hours.”
According to a recent Ontario Community Support Association (OCSA) member survey, 17.4% of front line positions (PSWs, RN, RPNs) for both full-time and part-time employment are vacant.
Staff are leaving the home and community-care sector to pursue incentivized opportunities in similar roles in hospitals and long-term care because PSWs in the home and community care sector, with the same education, make an average of 19% less than PSWs in the hospital sector and 9% less than PSWs working in long-term care, the OCSA reports.
Registered nurses in home and community care also make significantly less despite the same education – an average of $11.00 less per hour, or 32% less than in hospitals.
The OCSA is calling on the government to address this inequity by repealing Bill 124, which limits wage increases for registered nurses, nurse practitioners, and healthcare professionals to just one percent per year.
The OSCA is also asking the government to make pandemic pay permanent and to create a task force in the sector to address issues and report back to the government with a system-wide plan.